Bobcats Season 10 – Week 10 Review

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The Draft Issue

What a stinker this week was for the Bobcats. What an absolute steaming pile of dog doo doo. The team finally returned home after a dismal road trip only to drop a winnable game at home against Southeast Division rival Washington on Tuesday night. They traveled to Minnesota on Friday and get splattered on by a team that they’ve (surprisingly) owned for much of the last decade. The final bit of brown was served the next night in Chicago, a fumbled loss at the hands of a Bulls team that had just traded away its best healthy player.

The Cats currently stand at 15-23, eight games under .500 and out of the Eastern Conference top eight. Here’s the worst part: in the past few seasons, the Lottery provided a safety net for GM Rich Cho’s OKC-styled plan but this year’s pick goes to the Bulls if outside the Top 10 and the Bobcats are just talented enough to make that nightmare a reality. Perhaps more concerning is the fact that even if the Bobcats were to keep their Lottery pick, there is no guarantee Cho would draft a player of any consequence.

How We Got Here

Cho’s four Lottery selections over three years (picks 7, 11, 2 and 4 overall) have yet to land a single All-Star or All Rookie First Team nod. Only one of the players selected (Kemba Walker) has shown any signs of being more than an above average starter. The other three – Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller – seem stuck in development limbo, either in the midst of learning hoops essentials or an entirely new position. MKG and Zeller should end up being ok eventually. They have the intangibles and hoops acumen to overcome present day weaknesses and become at least quality NBA players. Biyombo is probably a lost cause – the team basically admitted as much when they debated extending his rookie-scale team option for next season. All in all, Cho’s drafts, given the quality of the picks and talent available, have been disappointing – even more so when you factor in that his entire team building strategy is built around the Lottery. Here we are, years after the dismantling began and the Bobcats are no closer to a perennial All-Star (much less superstar) than they were before.

The post-mortem on Cho’s Draft woes lead to one conclusion: he fails when drafting “projections” of what a player might be versus who they are now. The mentality behind this probably stems from his days with Seattle/OKC – a branch of the Spurs culture (GM Sam Presti arrived via San Antonio) suited for transforming raw specimens into productive assets. The Bobcats had zero experience with this type of development before Cho arrived and Cho only compounded the risk by selecting his prospects in the Lottery versus the late rounds (i.e. Serge Ibaka, Manu Ginobli).

Executing The Right Strategy The Wrong Way

Had San Antonio drafted Biyombo, for example, he would’ve been taken in the late first round, stashed in Europe for a few years and only brought back Stateside once he was ready to contribute (see Tiago Splitter). But the Bobcats couldn’t afford to handle it that way, they were pitching youth and promise while bottoming out — how else could you sell a putrid, seven win team to the fans? Biz was brought over immediately after the team paid millions to his Spanish club via a buyout. Since then, the Cats have invested three seasons, additional millions of dollars in salary, countless training resources and thousands of minutes played in Biyombo and the only positive asset he’s likely to bring via trade is a salary dump. Biz is owed $4 million next season and it would be shocking if another franchise sees him as anything but a backup center at this point.

Here’s a list of notable players drafted after Biyombo:

Brandon Knight, Walker, Klay Thompson, Alec Burks, the Morris Twins, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Iman Shumpert, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Mirotic, Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler.

Realistically, the only player on this list that you could get for Biyombo one for one in a trade is Shumpert and that’s because the Knicks are terrible defensively and are poorly run in general. No way Chicago trades Butler for Biz today, for example, even though Jimmy was selected twenty three spots later. In total, there were at least thirteen more valuable, more productive players chosen after Biyombo, which is not exactly the best way to begin your tenure as a Draft-focused GM.

Projections Not To Be Confused With Reality

Getting back to Cho’s flawed “projections”, look no further than his most successful pick (Kemba) to discover a more reasonable Draft formula:

  1. Does this player possess an elite, instantly translatable NBA skill? Kemba: elite quickness – YES.
  2. Can this player shoot, pass and dribble? AKA Does this player have a sound basketball foundation? AKA “The Jalen Rose Rule of Drafting” Kemba: YES.
  3. Does this player possess the intangibles to improve upon their single elite skill and sound basketball foundation to become something more? Kemba: YES.

Now try running through this test with Biyombo:

  1. Shot blocking – YES.
  2. NO.
  3. N/A  - still learning fundamentals.

Uh-oh. Let’s try it with MKG:

  1. On-Ball Defense – YES.
  2. NO.
  3. N/A - still fixing broken shot (fundamental).

Yikes. What about Cody:

  1. NO.
  2. YES.
  3. N/A - no elite skill.

Now, I’m not saying this is the end all be all of Lottery Drafting Guides but if a player can’t shoot/pass/dribble, how in the heck is he going to be an All-Star? If he doesn’t have one elite skill, how is he going to be an All-Star? You gotta have all three. Look at Boogie Cousins in Sacramento. Elite post game, can do everything but has a terrible attitude that’s held him back. Reggie Evans is an elite rebounder but that’s it. Career role player. CP3 is an elite floor general, does everything and is driven to win. Superstar. Same goes for Damian Lillard.

Klay Thompson was an elite shooter coming into the Draft. He had sound fundamentals and, as the son of a former NBA player, was a big time worker. Not sure why you’d pass on him for a guy who can’t even catch a basketball much less pass/dribble/shoot. Michael Carter Williams was an elite floor general, could pass/dribble (though struggled with his shot somewhat as a freshman – the mechanics weren’t broken) and had the intangibles. There are shades of gray, sure, but as an overall strategy it can lead you to the promised land.

Oversell, Under Deliver

NBA talent evaluation is incredibly difficult – make no mistake – but so is open heart surgery and our society has figured out a way to put the right people in those positions to perform their jobs successfully. Rich Cho has done much more good than bad in his time in Charlotte. He’s wrangled their once wild cap situation, he’s made trades that have brought as much or more to the team than they’ve given up and his eye for low-cost free agents has been exemplary.

The problem is this: if you are going to subject a fanbase to a years-long, historically gruesome tear-down – pacifying them with dreams of young stars acquired through the Draft – then you MUST deliver on that promise. The Bobcats as constructed in 2010 were not going anywhere special but they were certainly not destined for a soul crushing seven win season either. The choice was made, the city and fanbase shouldered the embarrassment and shame and yet the shining young stars are nowhere within sight. Thus far at least, through the lens of Cho’s own lofty strategy, failure is the only grade.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Rich Cho Report Card | April 2013 Edition

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On June 14, 2011 the Charlotte Bobcats hired former Thunder and Blazer exec Rich Cho as general manager. His task: to transform a capped-out, going nowhere roster into a perennial Playoff contender. Nearly two years later, his plan has slowly but surely come into focus. Let’s take a look at each of the team’s major transactions and see how he’s fared.

YEAR ONE: 2011-2012 Season

Traded Stephen Jackson and the 19th overall selection (via Portland) for the 7th overall selection and Corey Maggette.

Just a few days into his tenure, Cho was able to swing a three team deal with Milwaukee and Sacramento to move up twelve spots and select Bismack Biyombo – an amazing feat considering that the only cost was downgrading from Jackson to Maggette. Great maneuvering but the jury’s still out on the pick. Biyombo is a classic project; a potential defensive stud who has made modest improvements at the offensive end. But have a look at the players Cho passed up to draft him: Brandon Knight, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried. Long term it’s still possible that Biz’s future is as bright as any in the 2011 Draft – his progress over the next two seasons will determine whether the move was a whiff or a home run swing.

GRADE: B

Drafted Kemba Walker with the 9th overall selection.

Walker may not have prototypical PG size or elite court vision but so what? Kemba is a leader, an amazing scorer and a player who has shown the ability to improve. If the 2011 Draft were held over today, he might go Top 3 and certainly Top 5. Relative to all of the Bobcats’ past Draft blunders, Kemba has been an unmitigated success.

GRADE: A+

Declined to match Dante Cunningham’s 3 year, $6 million offer sheet (third year team option) from Memphis, signed Reggie Williams to a 2 year, $5 million deal.

As the Blazers’ GM, Cho traded Cunningham to the Cats as part of the Gerald Wallace swap a few months prior – a not so subtle hint that he wasn’t a fan of Dante’s game. Add in a late season Mecklenburg County cannabis bust and Cunningham was as good as gone. Sad really, because Cunningham’s replacements, Williams and Derrick Brown, amounted to little more than cap fodder during their time in the Queen City. Meanwhile, Dante has honed his pick & pop shooting/pick & roll stopping game from Memphis to Minnesota, establishing himself as a legit role player in the league. Still only 25, Dante would’ve given the Cats everything they asked of Hakim Warrick and more, serving as a great screen and pop guy for Kemba and solid rebounder for a team that has desperately needed one.

GRADE: D-

Traded the team’s 2013 2nd Round pick (32nd overall) to OKC for Byron Mullens.

I’m not going to eat Cho’s lunch for this one. As frustratingly inconsistent as Mullens has been, it’s doubtful the team would have acquired a more intriguing prospect in this year’s early second round. Byron’s body language might be the worst in the league and when his jumper goes, he’s basically useless but it’s not hard to understand the intrigue. Mullens is a legit 7 footer with size who can stretch the floor and who has vastly improved as a rebounder and post player. On the downside, he doesn’t even try on defense (unless you count watching your man gain position and then fouling as trying) and can turn into a Ben Gordon-level ball stopper on certain nights (MVP! MVP!). Still, big men with Byron’s offensive skills are rare finds and I expect the team to at least extend him the qualifying offer this summer.

GRADE: B-

YEAR TWO: 2012-2013 Season

Traded Corey Maggette to DET for Ben Gordon and future 1st round pick.

Depending on who or what the Cats get with the Pistons’ first rounder, this may go down as Cho’s greatest move. Sure, Gordon tried to sabotage the team and is due a truckload of money next season but between the pick and Ben’s massive expiring contract, the Cats could have enough juice to land an All-Star via trade should one become available between now and next February’s deadline. Add in the fact that Gordon actually played okay for the Cats this season (11ppg in only 20 minutes per) while Maggette limped through just 18 contests with Detroit and you could see how Cho would have trouble “humbling himself” after a deal like this. Win-win.

GRADE: A+

Drafted Michael Kidd Gilchrist with the 2nd overall selection.

Much like Bismack Biyombo, MKG’s greatest crime is that he’s a defense-first prospect in a league that hasn’t been able to properly quantify, much less fully appreciate that side of the ball. Glance at the box score and Kidd-Gilchrist looks like an obvious mistake at the number two pick. Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes were so much further along offensively than nearly every Bobcat this season that it was impossible not to second guess Cho’s decision. But if you go back and watch the games closely, you’ll see something beautiful and rare: a 19 year old kid who made opposing wings work for their money. MKG rarely bites on pump or head fakes, he stays in front of guys with his hips rather than his feet and he blocks and rebounds at an elite rate (5th amongst SFs in blocks per, 6th amongst SFs in rebounds per 48 minutes). Gilchrist’s jump shot is beyond busted and his inability to space the floor will handcuff the team until he can develop that part of his game but long term, I think Cho made a solid pick. Defense is half of the game and MKG plays that half at an extremely high level.

GRADE: B

Drafted Jeffrey Taylor with the 31st overall selection.

Considering the guys drafted after him, Taylor was probably the right pick at 31. He shot a reasonable 34% from beyond the arc and 43% overall in limited minutes – not bad considering fellow Second Round “Three Point Ace” Kim English only managed 37% and 28% respectively. The organization sees him as a low cost “Three & D” prospect ala Danny Green, Thabo Sefolosha, etc. Taylor certainly has the size to pester perimeter players but unlike MKG, seems to bite on fakes and get caught out of position on drives (especially around the baseline). He’s also old for a rookie (turns 24 in May) and has a maddening tendency to travel before launching on a drive. All that said, I could see Taylor enjoying a long career in the league, especially if he latches on with a team like the Spurs or Thunder as a wing stopper going forward. He’s just not dynamic enough of a scorer to play big minutes for an offensively anemic squad like Charlotte.

GRADE: B

Extended then rescinded a qualifying offer to D.J. Augustin, signed Ramon Sessions to a 2 year, $10 million contract.

Another little offseason gem. Cho understood that small point guards who can’t finish at the rim have little value in the league, promptly ditching Augustin for the much more versatile Sessions. Ramon was a major reason the team started the season 7-5, adding another inside-out threat to couple with Walker on the perimeter. Charlotte’s point guard combination was one of the best in the league until Ramon went down with a late season knee injury. Only complaint is that Cho should have negotiated for a 3rd year team option – Sessions will hit unrestricted free agency in July ’14.

GRADE: A

Claimed Brendan Haywood via amnesty waivers.

The Bobcats continued their fascination with Dallas bigs by claiming Haywood off waivers for the measly sum of $2 million per over three seasons. Brendan will likely spend the last two years of the deal as Charlotte’s emergency center slash unofficial big man coach. A self-professed hoops junkie, Haywood will at the very least provide Biyombo, Mullens and company with a real NBA center to go up against in practice.

GRADE: C+

Signed Jannero Pargo, Jeff Adrien as mid/late season replacements.

Signing street free agents in the middle of the season are rarely noteworthy but both of these guys played hard and helped Charlotte grind out a few wins.

GRADE: B+

Traded Matt Carroll to New Orleans for Hakim Warrick; Traded Warrick to Orlando for Josh McRoberts.

Had Cho been able to skip the Warrick stage and grabbed McBob from the beginning the team probably would have won an extra 3-5 games and the move would’ve been an “A+++”. Still, the fact that Cho was able transmute a 13th man into a starting PF for twenty games can only be seen as a win even if the team is unable to re-sign McRoberts in July.

GRADE: A

-ASChin

@bobcatsbaseline

 UPDATE: At publication of this post, the Bobcats have announced that head coach Mike Dunlap has been fired by the team. As coach hirings tend to be decided by a combination of ownership, team president and general manager, I haven’t listed the Dunlap hire/fire amongst Cho’s transactions. 

The Bobcats and the Playoffs

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Today I received an email from the Bobcats.  You see, even though I’m a season ticket holder who’s already re-upped for next season, I haven’t committed to playoff tickets this year — today is the deadline.  It’s easy enough: since I have re-upped for next season, I have the option to “Pay as We Play”, meaning that I’d only be charged after each round (ha! more than one round?) the Cats played in the playoffs.  It would just take a quick phone call to opt in on that plan — why not, right?  But I’ll pass.

I’m hardly risking anything.  But it’s also my quiet (and yes, petty and pointless) protest against the very idea of the Bobcats being in the playoffs this year.  It’s the principle of the matter.

First, the facts.  As of Monday night the Bobcats are tied with the Bucks in ninth place, a full two games behind the 8th place Indiana Pacers, with 13 games left.  Though the Cats have head-to-head matchups remaining with both the Pacers and Bucks, they’ve already blown the season series/tiebreakers with both of those teams.  Other remaining games include Boston and Miami on the road, the Knicks at home, and two matchups with the Magic.

As I post this, ESPN’s John Hollinger’s playoff odds system gives the Bobcats a 16% chance of finishing the season in the 8th spot.  Basketball-Reference.com isn’t even as kind, putting the Cats chances at a meager 9.2%.

Furthermore, the notion that the Bobcats should even be gunning for the 8th playoff spot is ridiculous.  Another sweep, this time by Boston or Chicago? No thanks.

Making the playoffs would also lock the Bobcats into the #15 pick in this year’s draft, while missing out will probably put us at the 9th spot with its small associated chance of moving up to one of the top three picks.  While there doesn’t appear to be any savior in this year’s draft pool, the difference between picking at #9 and #15 is nonetheless important.

So don’t fret about Stephen Jackson’s hamstring and don’t pay much mind to anyone saying how “big” Wednesday’s matchup with the Pacers is.  The Bobcats have no business making the playoffs this year, and won’t.  They probably wouldn’t even if Jack was totally healthy.  With him hurting, it makes more sense to me to shut him down for the season and embark on a full-on tankfest — the 8th pick isn’t out of reach.

-Dr. E

The Mystery of The Silent Off-Season

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Larry Brown's Project

Much speculation and anticipation has rumbled amongst the foundation of hard-core Bobcats fans this off-season. So many NBA teams have made notable exchanges or additions that the current stagnant state of the Bobcats roster can only enhance the fanbase’s curiosity. As anxious as any other group of fans, the crew here at Bobcats Baseline has assumed several questions for the past couple of months.

Who will Charlotte sign? Who will be traded? How do the Bobcats keep up with the other mediocre clubs? While an answer to these questions could create headlines or at least drum up a bold reaction from a sports pundit, the Bobcats might not give us any such satisfaction.

Perhaps, the fundamental question that puts the off-season into focus would be this –
What roster position or positions do the Bobcats see as immediate needs?

After securing a reserve shooting guard with Gerald Henderson in the Draft, it seems that only one area of need will push the team to spend any more than they are already committed to drop on the next season. GM Rod Higgins has commented on the need of depth at the power forward position, but the club hasn’t made any drastic moves to overpay for a reserve.  Despite the reports from the team’s lone beat writer or speculative bloggers (like us), the Bobcats have really only made small mention of the power forward spot as a need for concern. So far, no one in the front office has gone into panic mode over signing a guy that will come off of the bench next year.

Could this be that the Bobcats might not really be that desperately concerned over filling out the back-up forward spot? It’s been suggested that Sean May could be reacquired to provide some depth behind Boris Diaw. Most of Charlotte’s fans would see this as a sad gesture toward improvement, but the team is definitely shopping with a tight budget. Additionally, some have assumed that the Bobcats were more likely to sign a D-Leaguer or an unaffiliated player that shows promise in Summer League play. A move like this probably won’t splash across the Sports Page, but it could fill their need just as much as an underachieving former NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player. So, the Bobcats are likely to spend little to no cash to cover that one hole that seems so important to all of their most analytical fans this summer.

This may sound crazy, but maybe the Bobcats don’t really have a need for depth at the power forward position. Larry Brown is known to be a bit fluid with his rosters, and he’s definitely open about changes that he wants from the organization. Brown has yet to make any publicly clamorous requests for that all so rare talent that can play against the league’s other back-up forwards. The lack of noise from Brown or the front office could mean that they simply already have their reserve power forward in Alexis Ajinca.

Larry Brown saw something in the 7-footer Ajinca that caused him to push the team to trade for an additional pick in the 2008 Draft  (No. 20) in order to acquire the rights to the Frenchman. After only appearing in garbage time throughout the first half of last season, the Bobcats sent Ajinca to the D-League to keep his game active over the spring. After suffering through the experience of the Sioux Falls SkyForce, we can assume that Alexis has put his focus on improving his game in any way that he can to stick on an NBA roster. With Larry Brown’s insight and the open ear of Boris Diaw, shouldn’t we expect some degree of improvement in the lanky man’s second season?

For the fans expecting a blockbuster deal or a huge free agent signing Alexis Ajinca isn’t likely the answer. Though, for the financially ailing Bobcats organization, the possibility of Ajinca filling out his body, his potential, and the team’s reserve forward need would sure sound like a great answer.

-Mike

Bobcats Baseline 2008 Draft Preview Part Two: The Lottery

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lotto

Welcome to Part Two of a five-part look at the 2008 NBA Draft from the perspective of the Charlotte Bobcats. Part One was a basic look at the Bobcats’ needs as they stand currently. In Part Two we take a detailed look at the draft lottery process which determines where the team will pick. Part Three will be an examination of the Bobcats’ options if they should luck out in the lottery and move up into one of the top three picks, while Part Four will be a look at the team’s possible choices if they stay in their spot with the eighth pick. At the end of this odyssey, Part Five will consider the Bobcats’ second round pick.

The draft lottery can be a confusing beast. The 2008 lottery is right around the corner — Tuesday, May 20 — and as usual, there are some impact players at the top of the draft. So here’s a primer. Continue reading